Had to think about this awhile...

More recent Sony Walkman devices nowadays have dropped the SonicStage software and use another device management package called Media Manager. It's supposed to be more user friendly than SonicStage was, but since I've no tangible experience with the earlier app I can't attest to this claim (other than to say that I didn't like SonicStage at all).

It appears that you strongly care about the audio quality output. If the Sony experience has been quite rewarding aside from the file management issues, I would suggest that you consider the Sony X-series device. It's been argued by many to be one of the best sounding devices around, has an extremely good user interface, allows for considerable sonic customization, and can even be managed using third-party applications like MediaMonkey (my manager of choice) or Windows Media Player 11, or even Windows File Manager (with a slight change to how the device is seen by your computer).

I've never used Media Manager as a CD ripper, so I can't comment on its capabilities. Fact is I've only used Media Manager to (frustratingly) get video on my Sony devices. Sony could use some lessons on building a solid, easy-to-use app in this instance, but overall Media Manager doesn't SEEM that bad, but then again I've only rarely used it to manage my own Sony devices, opting instead to use 3rd-party applications. That said, I have found that it isn't the best app for managing your library contents (like file naming and song tag information). And I'm not sure it can create song files like you desire (elimination of individual track breaks).

With regards to your laundry list of wants:

- I'm not sure what you mean by 'rip these CDs as albums'. On a computer, it's the artist + album title metadata that usually signifies the relationship of songs to a specific 'album' and determines the storage of the songs on the computer within a specific folder.

- Renaming abilities: I assume your talking about doing this manually, since no online database has their data in some standardized configuration, let alone tailored to your specific needs. Capabilities is all over the place when comparing various applications; no question that not all tag editors are created the same. I've found that I actually like iTunes best for its tag editing capabilities, particularly group edits. I use MediaMonkey at times as well, though its design structure isn't as no-brainer friendly as iTunes. But it does a better job of embedding album art, something that iTunes does rather poorly in that the artwork can be easily 'broken' from the song file.

- Earlier versions of iTunes used to have the capability of 'removing' the gaps between songs, essentially making one large file, perfect for listening to a Bach violin concerto or a Pink Floyd's Dark Side Of The Moon as they were meant to be experienced. But over the years Apple seems to have developed some reason against this and has since deleted this function in more recent iterations of their software. I'm not aware of any OEM app that has this capability built-in; likely you'll have to rely on using a 3rd-party app like Audacity to get the desired result (basically it's manually pasting the songs together and saving the result as one file).

- Not sure what you mean by 'chose' (choose?). At what time? At the time of ripping? At the time when loading from the library onto your device?

I think what you'll find if you haven't already is that there's NO device on the market that will fit your needs exactly. The device might be great but the software it comes with is a disaster. The software works good but the sound of the device is less than stellar. Etc., etc., ad nauseum. With competing standards and proprietary lockdowns it's a tough place to navigate, this universe of MP3. It's not like component stereo was, though even there not everything is as universal as RCA jacks (which ironically isn't universal itself).

What works for me is using a number of different software applications to manage my library. I rip using Nero and sometimes iTunes when I'm lazy or dealing with a CD of mediocre SQ to start with. I edit using iTunes. I manage my (compatible) players using MediaMonkey. My lone wolf players like my Zune HD...well, they're kinda out on their own with their own proprietary needs and support. But for everything else I rely on a multiplicity of resources and tools to get what I want. Not simple, but definitely suitable.